Posted in Comics n Stuff, TV Stuff

Champions of S.H.I.E.L.D. part 2: Season 2

Main Cast:

Agent Phil Coulson –  Clark Gregg

Agent Melinda May  –  Ming Na Wen

Agent Leopold Fitz    – Ian De Caestecker

Agent Gemma Simmons –  Elizabeth Henstridge

‘Skye’   –  Chloe Bennett

Alfonso ‘Mack’ MacKenzie – Henry Simmons

Lance Hunter – Nick Blood

Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Morse – Adrianne Palicki

Recurring Cast:

Glenn Talbot – Adrian Pasdar

Calvin Zabo – Kyle MacLaughlin

Grant Ward – Brett Dalton

Antoine ‘Trip’ Triplett – B.J. Britt

Robert Gonzales – Edward James Olmos

Gordon – Jamie Harris

Raina – Ruth Negga

Overview: First shown on 24 October 2014, season 2 opened capitalised on the strong finish of season 1 and pushed the story forward with an uneven, but highly entertaining 22 episodes. Rather than a huge global organisation, now S.H.I.E.L.D. is the small scrappy underdog against all sides, the US government, Hydra and other groups. Secrets, tension and uncertain loyalties abound.

Initial Status Quo: Several months after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a newer organisation arises, led by Director Coulson, this small scrappy group is a shadow of it’s former self and bit by bit are rebuilding to take the fight to Hydra, who despite the popular view are still very much a threat. Coulson is having moments of compulsive carvings similar to what happened to John Garrett after receiving the GHC formula in the last season. Skye has changed supervising officers to Melinda May and has become a capable specialist. Simmons is undercover at Hydra, Fitz is struggling to recover after the brain damage he suffered, whilst working with new recruit Alfonso MacKenzie/Mack. The team is also joined by Lance Hunter, a friend to other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and whilst sceptical of Coulson, trusts him enough to join. As well as Hydra, we have Dr Cal ‘Mr Hyde’ Zabo, Skye’s father who along with Grant Ward who escapes from S.H.I.E.L.D. pushes the plot forward as the secret of the alien writing, Skye’s origins and the strange artifact from the first episodes collide.

The Twist(s) First we find out that Skye is actually an inhuman and halfway through the season she goes through terrigenesis and emerges with vibrational powers. It’s then discovered that there are more inhumans out there, in hiding and terrified of the fearful human race. The second one comes when we learn that Bobbi and Mack are spies for another version of S.H.I.E.L.D. who are convinced that Coulson is the problem with the group and needs to be dealt with. Add into that several different revelations, changing allegiances and a few WTF moments, we get another fast paced finale which leads to more questions, more possibilities and more enjoyment for me.

Stand out episodes:

Love in the Time of Hydra: Bobbi and Mack play their hand and Grant Ward starts to help Agent 33 find closure over the damage done to her by Hydra.

Melinda: Where were learn how the ‘Cavalry’ became the Cavalry and why she spent 5 or 6 years in administration, set against the current Inhumans plot.

SOS: The seperate threads become one solid story and we get several cliff-hanger endings that leave you wanting a little more.

In Closing

Not suffering the finding their feet problems with the last season and having a little less to do with the Marvel Cinematics, allowed this season to breath a little. The cast are more comfortable in their roles and each are given more to do than last time. The expanded cast is a welcome breath of fresh air, with new recruits Mack, Bobbi and Hunter added some much needed flavour to the team. The antagonists are also more interesting and nuanced, from the more enlightened Ward, to his partner/girlfriend Agent 33 to the old school Nazi Daniel Whitehall. We get a look at the Inhumans and that continues Marvels attempts to make Inhumans interesting and relevant, but here it sort of works. (But seriously Marvel, stop trying to make Inhumans a thing, it’s still not working, but we all accept you tried your best.) We get more Asgardians, a Kree, a return of Deathlok and even some villains (we get Mr Hyde, Angar the Screamer and Crusher ‘The Absorbing Man’ Creel) and over all this was a much better season overall and I am glad I got it into my head to start watching these again.

Next Time: Inhumans, robot arms, alien worlds and Secret Warriors.

 

Posted in Comics n Stuff, TV Stuff

Champions of S.H.I.E.L.D. Part 1: Season 1

First airing 27 September 2013 on the US network ABC, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was the first attempt to put the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the small screen with a spin off and 5 netflix series, it can be considered something of a successful attempt.

 

Main Cast:

Agent Phil Coulson –  Clark Gregg

Agent Melinda May  –  Ming Na Wen

Agent Grant Ward   –  Brett Dalton

Agent Leopold Fitz    – Ian De Caestecker

Agent Gemma Simmons  –  Elizabeth Henstridge

‘Skye’   –  Chloe Bennett

Recurring characters

Raina –  Ruth Negga

Victoria Hand   –  Saffron Burrows

John Garret – Bill Paxton

Ian Quinn  – David Conrad

Mike Peterson – J August Richards

Agent Antoine ‘Trip’ Triplett – B J Britt

Agent Maria Hill – Colbie Smulders

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Overview: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a gamble, a weekly prime time series, set in the Marvel Universe, but without any of the recognisable characters that could be used in future films, or where there was rights issues. Straight away that takes the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Namor and a dozen other characters right off the table, add to that the ridiculous weekly schedule and a TV budget, it would be understandable if this was a brief failure. Right at the start, we are shown that the world has changed since the ‘incident’ when the Chitauri invaded a small part of Manhatten, the Avengers formed and the fantastic elements wherein were exposed to a terrified world.

Initial Status Quo: Our P.O.V. character is Skye, who lands on S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s radar after videoing a superhuman saving a woman from a fire. Quickly recruited for the response team is Grant Ward who is a very James Bond-esque agent. He is interviewed by Maria Hill to gauge his suitability to join a team led my an experienced agent named Coulson. Ward points out that he’s a level 6, so he knows Coulson was killed. Coulson walks in and announces that Ward is now a 7. He then recruits Melinda May from administration to act as pilot and takes Ward and May to the ‘Bus’ which is a converted Jet designated 616. Ward is met by newly field-rated scientist Fitz and Simmons, or Fitzsimmons for short. Investigating the superhuman, they encounter Skye, who helps out and is offered a consultant’s position on the Bus. For the first bunch of episodes, it’s very much like that, we get the team investigating weird cases, unexplained events and battle an organisation called Centipede who along with the ‘Clairvoyant’ are trying to develop super soldiers. In between we have the search for the truth of Skye’s past, the facts behind Coulson’s return and his time in Tahiti and all the time trying to train Skye as an agent. The concepts are fleshed out and the writing is decent enough and there is the sense of it all going somewhere as the Clairvoyant starts manipulating events. The synergy thing of it, is that during the season, Marvel released Thor: The Dark World and an episode fits in around that and then Captain America: Winter Solider happened.

The twist: Winter Soldier had the 3rd act twist that from the beginning, Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D and had been working in the background to make the world more dangerous, so to enable their takeover. The series then stops being what it was and becomes something else. Ward is revealed to be Hydra and thus becomes part of the antagonists for the rest of the season and S.H.I.E.L.D is now considered the same as Hydra, so the team are now outlaws. Now on the run, with minimal resources and betrayed at all sides, this rag tag team becomes not a team within S.H.I.E.L.D but the remainder of the organisation. It ends the season, showing that not all of the threats are dealt with and not all of the mysteries are solved. There are also guest stars, minor twists and turns and ultimately the series ends on a high with a final scene that leaves you wanting to know what happens next.

In closing: I liked this series better on the second watch, not having to wait week by week for each new episode and after a wobbly first half dozen episodes it found it’s footing early on and was consistently enjoyable. It’s not high art or award winning drama and to be honest it’s not really trying to do that, it’s an entertaining show set in the spaces around Marvel’s movies, but more and more are separate from them. The main cast do a great job with Ming Na Wen and Clark Gregg playing wonderfully off one another and the younger cast aren’t as annoying as they could have been. Over all this is a TV show that is worth giving a try for anyone who has a passing interest in the marvel movies and the comics they came from, it’s not the comics, nor the movies, but it’s not bad because of them.

Next Time: Rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D., rival organisations and terrigenesis.

 

 

Posted in Comics n Stuff, TV Stuff

Champions of S.H.I.E.L.D. Part 0: 

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Quality is no real indicator of how much I will enjoy something, nor to be honest is popularity. Many are the show that despite being critically acclaimed or award winning that have simply passed me by. I am no fan of Breaking Bad and found the Walking Dead  to be unwatchable, but I often enjoy stuff that no one else can tolerate. I freely admit though the show disappeared up it’s own arse at the end, I watched Sanctuary right up until the end.  I am willing to give most action or geeky shows a try. There’s little rhyme or reason for the ones I stick with and due to my many many problems, I always feel that when I like a show, I must qualify my appreciation. I should stop doing that. It’s my opinion after all and the only condition you need give for liking something is that you like it.

So one of the shows I stick with that no one else likes is the 2013 series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Now I say no one else, but I do know someone, just the one and that’s about it. But the truth is, I like the show. I did in the past and am re-watching it now and enjoying it still. So I want to write about it a bit, look at it season by season and try to work out why I like it so and why anyone else should. I doubt I will change anyone’s mind, but what the hell.

So we start as ever with the beginning.

S.H.I.E.L.D. was introduced in Marvel Comics as Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division starting in Strange Tales 135 back in 1965. It was then and for most of it’s run led by Nicholas J Fury.

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Halfway between Man from U.N.C.L.E. and 007 it was a spy agency with all kinds of hi-tech gear who battled with A.I.M. and Hydra (AIM being mad scientists and Hydra being the group formed by ex-Nazis such as Baron Von Strucker. It was a way to use some of the interesting WWII characters Marvel had including the Howling Commandos and S.H.I.E.L.D. was used often to springboard new stories and introduce new characters such as Mockingbird, Jasper Sitwell, Quasar, Maria Hill, Sharon Carter, Victoria Hand and others, who started life of as agents. As time went on, S.H.I.E.L.D. changed becoming more of a traditional espionage agency just with sci-fi trappings and connections to several super heroes. Captain America for example is a connected to the agency and often works alongside them. Refashioned into the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate back in 1991 it carried on as it did before, just with a post cold war mentality. After the Secret Invasion story in the mid-noughties, S.H.I.E.L.D. was done away with in place of H.A.M.M.E.R. which had no real words behind those letters, but S.H.I.E.L.D. returned as it always does. Given it’s unique place in the Marvel Universe and it’s ability to connect to many different heroes for several different reasons, it made sense for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have it’s own version of SH.I.E.L.D. in this case the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, who showed up in Iron Man and Incredible Hulk back in 2008. In Hulk, they simply acted as intelligence providers and arms suppliers, but in Iron Man, we got to see the agents in action, investigating the escape of Tony Stark from the 10 rings camp. Here’s where we met Philip Coulson. Seen as an affable middle management type, he was the everyman in a strange new world, dealing with it as many would, like a job. He returned in Iron Man 2 and led the investigation into Mjolnir in the movie Thor soon after. He showed up in a couple of one-shot episodes that were on the DVD/Blu-Ray releases of these films and then had his role expanded for Avengers in 2012.

By this point, S.H.I.E.L.D. was as much of a character in the movies as anyone else and despite Samuel L Jackson owning the role of the Ultimate version of Nick Fury, it’s face was Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson. His dramatic final scene in Avengers was a lovely denouement to how the films portayed the agents. A nice little finale

Then they announced a series.

 

Posted in TV Stuff

5 TV Series that we only got one Season of

It’s very hard to say what will be successful in regards to TV series. For every Firefly that is cut short, we get 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1, I like both, but it does raise the question of how many series have we missed out on, because of a truncated run, or a completed but failed 1st season. Being something of a DVD Boxset fan, have been thinking about series that maybe got overlooked.

Here’s 5 of them, decided to ignore the obvious route of Firefly. We all know that ended too soon, but we did get a cool movie out of it.

1: Bloodties

2007’s Bloodties was technically 2 seasons, but I got them as a job lot. A supernatural procedural, it was about a PI called Vicki,  (Christina Cox) who had to leave the police and her partner Mike (Dylan Neal) for medical reasons, she’s going blind. After getting a missing persons case from local barmaid Corina (Gina Holden) she comes across vampire Henry Fitzroy (son of Henry VIII) and the two battle a demon. From there, we get more and more supernatural stuff and an intense love triangle between Vicki, Mike and Henry. It had action, character stuff, a great expanded cast (including the best deadpan medical examiner on TV) and a will they won’t they romance that I actually cared about.

Spider-Man (MTV)

This 2003 gem was released after the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man film and was completely CGI animated, it had a sterling voice cast including Neil Patrick Harris as Peter Parker, Lisa Loeb as Mary Jane, a pre-Sharknado Ian Ziering as Harry Osborn and Anelle Brooks as original character Indira Daimonji. Playing more with Peter’s on campus life mixed with villains soap-opera complications, this was more like the comics that the movie, whilst still using the movie’s story as a jumping off point. It ended with a cliff-hanger and then replaced by the superior Spectacular Spider-Man series, which was then replaced by the disney-fied Ultimate Spider-Man, so was condemned to an unfair obsolescence.

Friends with Better Lives

To avoid this just being cartoons and vampire shows, I remembered this charming little show from 2011. Friends with better lives if about a group of 6 friends, all in different phases or states of relationships. Will (James Van Der Beek) is recently divorced, Kate (Zoe Lister Jones) is very single, Bobby (Kevin Connelly) and Andi (Majendra Delfino) are married with a child and Jules and Lowell (Brooklyn Decker and Rick Donald) are just now engaged. Playing with the differences between their lives gives the comedy a relatable feel to most people, we’ve all been one of those situations or another. The performances and dialogue elevates it from other similar shows and it shows how James Van Der Beek was wasted doing shit like Dawson’s creek when this and other comedy roles show how funny he can be.

This is a show I appreciated only because it was championed by the MIGHTY Rosie, so I want to say thanks to her for getting me to stick with it.

Wolverine and the X-Men

Back in 2008 after the relative success of X-Men Evolution, Marvel tried it again, mixing the movie versions and the recent comics into a Wolverine-centric X-Men series. A good voice cast, some solid writing and a dual timeline narrative, with Wolverine running the X-Men team in 2008 and Professor X at the end of the world in 2028. Professor X communicates with the past to prevent the horrible future that he is caught up in, giving this a very Terminator vibe. Add in the usual villains and a FBI like Mutant Response Department. This series very much had it’s own identity, whilst still accessible to the characters no matter where you had seen them before, or even if you had.  The season ended with the Sentinel based armageddon being averted, but something more along the lines of Age of Apocalypse happening instead, but since the series ended and Marvel concentrated on non X-Men properties to maximise their own movies and tv projects. We’ve been left hanging since. Although it is one big story, so at least we got some kind of climax.

Moonlight

Kind of saved the best for last and this is another re-watch suggested by the MIGHTY Rosie.

Another 2007 alumni, this was another vampire based procedural, but this one had a difference. Mick St John (Alex O’Loughlin) is a PI trying to live his life. The odd thing about him is he’s a vampire. There’s 300 or so of them in LA and he’s no villain or killer, he has boundaries. Vampires like their secrecy, having suffered the torch and pitchforks of the past, so when an internet news site starts reporting on a vampire-slaying, Mick looks into it, finding Beth Turner (Sophie Myles) who is trying to make the news-site a proper news outlet. They are immediately drawn to each other and there’s good reason.

Less supernatural in nature, this version of vampires are just a bit different, no coffins and gothic shit here, they a stronger and faster and have fangs and all that, but they don’t explode in sunlight and crosses don’t do much. Mick is affable and charming and as different from other vampires, like his blood dealer Guillermo and best friend Josaf Kostan (a hilarious Jason Dohring) as any people can be. Well paced and interesting, this series was and remains an enjoyable bit of tv fluff that had something of a cliff-hanger ending.

 

Posted in TV Stuff

Kamen Rider Ramblings: Agito

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Kamen Rider Agito was the second of the Heisei era of Kamen Rider, a tokusatu (sci-fi/special effects show) from Japan. There were many commonalities between it and the first Heisei series Kamen Rider Kuuga, including an affable lead, motorcycles, non-human opponents and specialised police divisions as well as horrific murders and explosive battles

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Agito is the story of Shoichi Tsuhgami, who is found on a beach and is amnesiac, he is taken in my college professor Yoshihiko Misugi, also living there are Misugi’s son Taiichi and his niece Mana Kazaya, who recently lost her father to an as yet unsolved murder Shouichi is friendly and eager to help and takes over the cooking, cleaning and gardening for the Misugi family Agito is also the story of Ryou Ashihara, a young swimming hopeful, trying to recover after a horrific motorcycle accident, Ryou is cynical and self involved and has little thought for anyone but himself. A third protagonist is Matoko Hikawa, a police officer who after saving lives on a boat during a severe storm is re-assigned to the G3 unit, a police division set up after the events of Kamen Rider Kuuga, to battle the unidentified life forms, should they ever reappear. This armour is very much modelled after Kuuga, with the compound eyes and concentration of armour on the chest and shoulders. These three characters share the hero’s role as a new threat of ‘Unknowns’ arises.

SPOILERS: (For a 14 year old show)

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Heroes
Shouichi spends over 40 of the 51 episodes with no idea who he is, so spends most of the time not really doing very much in the way of character development. He is affable and optimistic and similar to Yusuke Godai in Kuuga takes his transformation into the super human Agito very much in his stride. Ryou Ashihara is the obnoxious bad boy of the show, prickly and argumentative, but is nonetheless noble and caring. Both these young men battle the monsters for little to no motivation beyond helping the person being attacked. Matoko Hikawa is driven by duty and need to prove himself worthy for a job he feels he isn’t really suited for. Honest, committed and at times clumsy, he is a perfect foil for the flaky and artistic Shouichi and vice versa.

Secondary Characters

Shouichi’s supporting cast is the aforementioned family, the stern and sincere, yet sometimes goofy Professor Misugi, the bratty 10 year old Taiichi together with 17 year old Mana, who over time develops psychic powers. Hikawa works on the G3 team along with the hapless doof Omuro and the petulant genius Ozama, who really has a talent for upsetting anyone she ever talks to. These three find themselves often in conflict with Toro Hojou, an unpleasant and ambitious officer, all false smiles and sharp tongue. There’s also Hojou’s partner Konno a middle ages detective with an obsessive fondness for ramen noodles. There’s also several of the passengers of the Ataksuki.

Plot

The main story revolves around a ferry called the Ataksuki, which on a routine trip, gets caught up in a battle between two opposing forces, one light and one dark. The lighter brother, sensing his defeat is imminent sacrifices himself, dividing his power into millions of pieces, which hall to Earth and enter millions of people all over the world. His brother, who claims credit for creating people (yup, the villain here called Overlord is apparently God) is appalled by this and sees this power in mankind to be an abomination and sends his angels to kill anyone with this superhuman potential, because he can’t love these altered humans. These angels (or Lords) are animal based creatures who kill anyone with this potential as well as anyone related by blood. Some of these Agito seeds are active within people (Shouichi, Ashihara and a surgeon called Kino) which tells them of these attacks and guides them to defend the advancement of humanity. Like Kuuga this is very formulaic, we have plot moving forward, some character scenes and battles with the Unknowns. But this differs from Kuuga in three very specific ways.

1: The police and the primary lead don’t work together, almost at all.

2: There are 3 riders through most of the series and during six episodes, there are 4.

3: The pacing is punchier and flows much better.

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There are three Agito riders and a non-Agito rider.

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From left to right we have G3/G3-X is a robot battle suit utilising advanced weapons, support and build in AI to out think and out shoot the unknowns. Mostly worn by Hikawa, this suit kills a good number of the monsters.

Ryou Ashihara becomes  Kamen Rider Gills, a more organic and animal-like with spikes and tendrils used as defensive weapons, he also had a great “Henshin” sequence.

Then there’s Agito, with his weapons and alternate forms, including the brute force Burning mode and the final Shining form.

At the end there is Another Agito, a surgeon called Kino, suffering from his past, another survivor from the Ataksuki, heroic to a point, but often controlled by his darker impulses and motives.

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The unknowns (or Lords) have a very half man/half animal look to them and murder in a variety of disturbing ways.

The Good

Agito is better paced and more tightly plotted than it’s predecessor, more stuff happens organically and the many threads and associated characters are woven together better. Here we get to see several points of view, including the villain’s. With three riders, plus police, we get a great cast of characters leading to an ensemble show which really works. Shouicih is a fun character who’s openness and ebullient nature is nothing to do with his anmesia as when the gaps of his life are filled in, we learn he is exactly as he always has been. While similar to Yusuke Godai from Kuuga, he is a more sympathetic character. The battles are better choreographed and the unknowns are more of a serious and escalating threat with their own understandable motivations. A slightly smaller supporting cast gives each character their own moments and there are less dropped plot-lines than before.

The Bad

Some plot-lines are dropped and how the series starts doesn’t jibe with how it ends with little reason behind the change. Some mini arcs have characters doing the same thing several times and the tone in some scenes is in question as some moments are played for laughs, while we have murders and monsters a minute later. Also as a villain, Overlord doesn’t really do much for most of the series.

Overall

Kamen Rider Agito is a fun and interesting series and has the edge over Kuuga in many ways, including acting, effects, pacing and music. There’s a more layered story, told from mulitple viewpoints. There was less filler than before, which I did appreciate. I dipped my toe in with Kuuga, but dived in with Agito.

Next Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki: Damn I am in fact addicted.

 

Posted in TV Stuff

5 Sci Fi Series that aren’t ‘Franchises’

I have watched the Star Wars films, am watching them with my son, will no doubt watch them again, but I am one of those people who accepts that they are entertaining, but not particularly well made. I enjoyed many of the episodes of Star Trek and their respective films, but I accept that there’s a lot more about it that’s bad than is good. Babylon-5 is also deeply flawed and Stargate SG-1 is very so so.

Now that all those fandoms are after my head, the reason I say that is that Science Fiction on television is more often than not thought of as those franchises and little else. Between them this counts as over 17 films, half a dozen animated series, a couple of one off specials (read: failed pilots) and at least 10 ongoing TV series and counting. There’s an arguement to say that these four franchises (am including B5 to be generous really) have dominated the market, much to TV’s detriment.

So on the TV side, have not watched a full episode of any of them in months, yet have been watching at least 5 different sci fi series. So I wanted to take a quick look at them, because in the franchise dominated entertainment industry, smaller shows, less budget and less big names can be missed and these gems can be forgotten.

1: Lucifer

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I missed the Vertigo boat during the first flush of my comic collecting back in the 90’s. As I looked for different things later on, the vertigo fans put me off the comics. Years passed and I read Preacher and the Neil Gaiman Sandman and others and in the Sandman run was a story where the devil just said “F**k this!” and quit his job and moved to LA to open a piano bar. This series is based on that idea. Tom Ellis plays Lucifer Morningstar, the fallen angel often known as the devil, Satan or others. He’s lived in LA for 5 years with his bar manager an ex-demon called Mazikeen. He gets caught up in a murder investigation headed up by former actress and detached detective Chloe Decker, given the job by her ex husband Dan Espinoza (father to her daughter Trixie) and he’s fascinated by Chloe. Chloe is played by Lauren German who matches Ellis well with some amusing chemistry. Add in a conflicted angel called Amenadiel and a quirky psychotherapist called Linda and this is a hilarious little series found on Amazon Prime. The whole show hangs on the hilarious performance of Tom Ellis as an unrepentant and charming devil who is smart enough to understand tact, but sees no point in it. It’s funny, exciting and while it uses a religious back story, I don’t see any mocking of anyone’s genuine faith. In a very sensitive time, that’s a positive.

 

2: Hunters

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One of a handful of SyFy shows on this list, Hunters uses allegory quite heavily to tell a story about those who battle fanatics, becoming as bad as fanatics.

Really it’s the story of Flynn Carroll, an FBI agent and veteran of war, who still bears the scars of his experiences. His wife disappears, upending his life and the life of the daughter or his dead partner, who he has adopted. His wife was being investigated by the Extraterrestrial Terrorism Unit, a very black ops anti-terrorism unit run by the US government, who recruit Flynn to find a terrorist group made of aliens, hiding in human form. The characterisation is at times slim and there feels like there’s no one to really root for, but it’s tense, well paced and the themes of xenophobia and stressing security over freedom is disturbingly relevant in a post Sept 11 world. The effects are good, but very reminiscent of Aliens, or Predator and the archetypes are easy to see. But this series is interesting and well worth looking at, a nice reminder than when you think you’re the good guy, you’re willing to do almost anything to get what you want. Thing is, no one thinks they are the bad guy, do they?

3: The Expanse

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Am only halfway through this, but it’s fascinating. It’s 300 years in the future, Mars is colonised and is a super-power in it’s own right and it’s dealings with Earth are tense at a cold war level. In the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars is more people, very much seen as an underclass by the two worlds. These ‘Belters’ do a lot of the work that keeps these two worlds going, but benefit little from their endeavours. Yes, this series is about class as much as space. On a space station inside this belt, a cop in a very corrupt system is investigating a missing person and it’s heading into strange and dangerous place. Outside of the belt, an ice mining ship investigates a distress call and get caught up in a plot to kick off the war between Mars and Earth that some on both sides want, but both sides know will cause untold loss of life. Like many dramas with a large cast, we get pieces of each plot thread and spoon fed info to keep us interested. I’m back on watching it this weekend.

4: Dark Matter

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Another SyFy series, this is an ensemble show set in some undetermined future. Man has colonised much of the galaxy and industry and crime is everywhere. 6 people wake up on a ship, no memories, no idea who they or each-other are on a ship they can barely fly, with an artificial intelligence android that’s also amnesiac and a little ‘perculiar’. They learn that they are criminals, mercenaries and runaways and try to make their way in space, taking what jobs they can, trying to work out who took their memories and what they should do.

There’s more than a little taste of Firefly here, the less than legal mixed with a bit of decency and nobility. These strangers to each other and themselves working together makes this series very much it’s own thing. It’s mostly bottle episodes, adding to the feeling of claustrophobic tension and the writing is decent enough for each character to have his/her own voice. After a cracking first season cliffhanger, the series was renewed and I’m looking forward to watching season 2.

5: Killjoys

killjoys

When the most famous person in a TV show is the guy who played the second worst Jimmy Olsen on TV, it’s not really inviting. But to be honest, this is my favourite of this 5. It’s not the best, technically or otherwise, but it is one thing that a lot of Sci-Fi TV is missing. It’s fun. Balls out ridiculous fun. Aaron Ashmore plays Johnny Jaqobis, who works for the RAC, which is halfway between marshals and bounty hunters in a planetary system known as  the Quad. He works with/lives with his estranged brother D’avin, a former soldier, suffering PTSD and Dutch, a fighter with an enigmatic past and a temper. They live on a spaceship called Lucy (which does seem to be in love with Johnny) and take warrants for all sorts of criminals and materials. From the plush elite run world of Qureshi, the garden-like Leith, the  abandoned moon of Arkyn and the working class mining colony of Westerley, the team go all over, taking all sorts of jobs and having a lot of wacky adventures.

The action is heavy, the drama well put together and the comedy is sarcastic and at times light hearted. This is fun, it’s the spiritual successor to shows like Farscape with it’s cheeky tone and less than clean cut cast. The first season struggled with it’s tone, but near the end became much more consistent and that consistency has been all over season 2. I would highly recommend this season for fans of action in all it’s forms. This is a fun show and I hope we get more of it.

Ta ta for now internet people.

Posted in TV Stuff

Kamen Rider Ramblings: Kuuga

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A year or two ago, watched a japanese film on youtube, like many of the geekier amongst us, I knew that Saban’s Power Rangers were primarily made from imported and redubbed Japanese TV shows, with original linking scenes. As I hadn’t seen any, didn’t really think much of it. After watching this ridiculous film, which had a plethora of characters I had never seen before and had no context for, I suppose I should have been put off, instead I looked at it as ‘here’s another fictional universe I can dive into, looks fun’. This genre of special-effect heavy sci-fi/fantasy TV show (called Tokusatsu has been going since the 60’s and 70’s and fell into several catergories, the main three being.

Metal Heroes: Often space based, with armoured characters, an example is Space Sheriff Gavan, or Blue SWAT. This isn’t a sub genre I know about to be honest.

Sentai: Sentai translates as soldier, or trooper and is best known as the sub-genre that lead to the Power Rangers franchise, from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, we get Mighty Morphin. From Denji Sentai Megaranger, we get Power Rangers in Space and that kind of thing, also not something I want to get into here.

The third is Kamen Rider, which translates as Masked Rider. This follows a fairly formulaic format. There’s a threat (non-human in origin) and a motorcycle rider, who transforms into another form to battle said threat. Again, this goes back a good number of years, but is split into several eras.

The Showa era runs from 1971-1989, there was a ten year hiatus and the Kamen Rider came back into the Heisei era, then the second phase of the Heisei era. Seeing the Heisei era as a good place to start, I tested the waters with a few single episodes of different things and then started with the first Heisei show Kamn Rider Kuuga.

Kamen Rider Kuuga

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First aired in 1999, this 49 part series followed Yusuke Godai (I’m going to do the first name/surname thing, simply for ease) a young slacker, who while a hard worker, viewed life as an adventure and travelled the world. He pops by to see his friend Sakurako Sawatari, who works at a local university in ancient cultures and languages. She is Yusuke’s oldest friend and when she is called to an architectural dig in Nagano Japan, he goes with her.
At the dig, there are several dead bodies, a horrible monster has appeared and escaped as well as 200+ new creatures who seemed to erupt out of the ground. The detective in charge Kaoru Ichijo brings Godai and Sawatari to the police station, which is attacked by the first of these creatures, referred to as unidentified creature #1. During the fight, a stone belt from the dig is thrown across the room and the curious Godai puts it on. He is transformed into some kind of armoured warrior and battles #1. He wins barely and is considered by the police #2. Realising this is going to be a thing, Ichijo as well as detectives Norimichi Sugita and Tsuyoshi Sakarai are assigned to a science police division under the command of  Sadao Matsukura. When #3 comes along, Godai goes after him, needing more strength, he changes into the Mighty Form and defeats #3, but doesn’t kill him. He’s then seen by the police and considered #4. Ichijo recognises Godai’s value and the two partner up, whenever the police find out about an attack, the woman on dispatch Sasayama, tells Ichijo, who tells Godai, who changes into his warrior mode, which the creatures he battles call “Kuuga”. We have the formula in place and  there battles follow on from there, with the bad guys (the Gurongi) killing off huge swathes of people for a game they call the Gegeru. The game is to kill off as many of the descendants of the Linto, or the rest of the human race, as possible. All under the watch of Ra-Baruba-De, who organises the game and creature #0 also known sa N-Daura-Zebu, who is another Kuuga.

Action: There is some form of fight scene with every episode, but not before a lot of regular people and a staggering number of police are killed. Seriously the police in this program get killed off so fast, you think they slagged off the show runner. The battles between Kuuga and the monstrous Gurongi often have Godai transform (or Henshin!) and use of the following forms.

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The Mighty form was the default and most battles started with this guy, it’s main value was it’s strength.

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The Dragon form was used for speed and leaping, this form could also take poles, pipes and other long objects and reshape it to a bo/quarter staff.

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The Pegasus form had heightened senses and could transform a handgun into a ornated looking crossbow.

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The Titan form was impervious to many attacks and could change a bike throttle into a broadsword.

Each battle ended with some sort of explosion, most often after a flying kick.

Characters:

There was a sprawling supporting cast as well as the core cast.

Yusuke Godai: Perpetually cheerful and optimistic, greeting everyone with a thumbs up and strove towards gaining 2,000 skills

Kauro Ichijo: Strait laced and methodical police detective, married to his job, Godai mellowed him out a little.

Sakurako Sawatari: Studious and cautious, expert in ancient languages. She worries about Godai and works to translate any information from the dig to aid him along with her colleague Jean Michel Sorrel.

Police officers: Sadao Matsukura, Nozomi Sasayama, Tsuyoshi Sawatari and Morimichi Sugita. They were the main part of the science police tasked with ending the Gurongi threat. Supported ably by Shuichi Tsubaki and Hikari Enokida who worked medical and scientific respectively. Enokida was also charged with developing weapons to kill the Gurongi.

In his home life, Yusuke lived with his uncle Tamasatura Kazi, who ran a cafe, with a family friend Nana Asahina, an aspiring actress with a severe crush on Yusuke. Also there from time to time was Minori Godai, Yusuke’s sister, who was a primary school teacher, who’s class was often entertained by the entertaining Yusuke. There was also Yusuke’s old primary school teacher Shoji Kanzaki, who got Yusuke through a rough time and returned the favour when he could.

As you can see, this was a large ensemble cast and a narrative that went well beyond a monster of the week series. Themes looked at were social anxiety, the effects of terrorism, depression and work/life balance. Really the series was about how far you go to battle an enemy. Would Kuuga become as angry as the Gurongi, would the modern human race become more like the Gurongi as they battled them. The series ended with a battle between Kuuga and #0 and the last episode was very much an aftermath episode as we find out what happened to everyone.

I’ve gone on long enough and I’m glad I gave this odd duck of a series a go.

Might do more now.

Have Agito to try next.